Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ready. Set. Time to Pickle - Kosher and Moroccan-Style Pickles for Thanksgiving and Anytime


Pickles are delicious anytime of the year. For many years I have made my two favorite kinds of pickles for Thanksgiving. Kosher dill pickles and Moroccan-style pickled vegetables. Part of our Thanksgiving tradition is to post these recipes to share them with you. That way, our tables will connect on this very wonderful holiday.






No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle!
In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted.
I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles.

Moroccan pickled veggies

In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and clarified butter, tomato marmalade, eggplant-tomato salad and preserved vegetables.
The cooking class lasted four hours. The time it took to show us how to make preserved or pickled vegetables: five minutes.
To Wafa and Benijei, the process was so easy, there were no pickle recipes. A little of this, a little of that, throw the vegetables into a jar, shake it up, put it in a cupboard and in a week, voila, you have pickles.

Pickle recipes tip from Grandma

From my grandmother I learned that making kosher dill pickles was a little more complicated. In retrospect, I think that’s because pickling cukes are more prone to decay than are the carrots, parsnip, fennel and green beans used in Morocco.
Every Thanksgiving I make both.
Pickles are very personal. What one person loves might be too salty or vinegary to another. It may take you several tries before you settle on the mix of salt, vinegar and spices that suits your palate.

Garlic is usually added to brine. My grandmother didn't put garlic in hers and I don't put any in mine so I indicated garlic as optional.

Lower East Side Kosher Dill Pickles

When making kosher dill pickles keep in mind four very important steps:
1. Select pickling cukes, not salad cucumbers, and pick ones without blemishes or soft spots.
2. Taste the brine to confirm you like the balance of salt-to-vinegar. The flavor of the brine will approximate the flavor of the pickles.
3. Once the cukes are in the brine, they must be kept submerged in an open container.
4. When the pickles have achieved the degree of pickling you like, which could take three days to a week, store the pickles in the brine, seal and keep in a refrigerator where they will last for several weeks.
Ingredients
8 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 cup white wine vinegar or yellow Iranian vinegar (my preference)
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
5 dried bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open
5 sprigs of fresh dill
5 pounds small pickling cucumbers, washed, stems removed, dried
Directions
1. In a non-reactive pot, heat the water and vinegar on a medium flame. When the water gently simmers, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Do not allow the water to boil.
2. Dip your finger in the brine, taste and adjust the flavor with a bit more salt, water or vinegar.
3. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of a gallon glass or plastic container. Arrange the cucumbers inside.
4. Pour in the hot brine being careful to cover the cucumbers. Reserve 1 cup of brine.
5. To keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, find a plastic cup that is not as wide as the mouth of the container. Place the reserved cup of brine into the plastic cup and put into the container to press down on the cucumbers.
6. Place the container in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Check daily to make sure the cucumbers are submerged. If the brine evaporates, use the reserved brine in the plastic cup, replenishing the liquid in the cup with water to weigh down the cukes.
7. After three days, remove one cucumber and sample. If you like your pickles crisp, that may be enough time. If they aren’t pickled enough for you, let them stay on the counter another few days.
8. When you like how they taste, remove the cup and seal the top. Refrigerate the container.

Moroccan Style Preserved Vegetables

In Morocco, virtually any vegetable can be preserved. In the class, we were shown green beans, fennel, parsnips and carrots. Experiment and see what you like, including asparagus, zucchini, beets, daikon, eggplant, daikon and broccoli.



For myself, over the years I have settled on onions, carrots, cauliflower florets and green cabbage.
Whatever you try, prepare the vegetable by washing, peeling and cutting them into pieces similar in size, about a 1/4"
The fun thing about pickling is you can personalize your pickles, making them any way you like.

Save the pickling brine. It is delicious poured over warm Japanese rice or mixed with olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Ingredients
2 whole carrots, ends trimmed, washed, peeled, cut into rounds, ¼-inch thick

1 medium yellow onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, sliced lengthwise (root to stem) 1/4" slices
1 small whole green cabbage, washed, any brown outer leaves removed and discarded, cut in half, cut out core and reserve for soup, cut into 1/4" squares

1 small white cauliflower, washed, leaves removed (instructions below)
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ cups white wine or yellow Iranian vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions
1. Sterilize two quart-sized glass or plastic containers.

2. Finalize the prep on the cauliflower by using a sharp pairing knife to create 1" long florets about 1/4" thick. Use the remaining stems for a stir fry or soup.


3. Toss the vegetables together to mix well in a large bowl.

4. Place the mixed vegetables into the two jars.

5. Add equal amounts of the aromatics to each jar.
6. Combine the kosher salt, water and vinegar. Mix well. Taste. If you find the mixture too acidic, slowly add water until you like the flavor. If not salty enough, add a small amount of kosher salt
7. Pour the water-vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the liquid covers the vegetables. If more liquid is needed, make more brine and reserve any left over.

8. Top off each jar with equal amounts of olive oil.
9. Seal the jars and shake well to dissolve the salt and mix the aromatics.
10. Refrigerate. Wait one week and taste. Wait longer if they aren’t pickled enough. They will keep in the refrigerator for months.

  

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ready. Set. Brine. Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

Does brining matter? That's what a friend and I asked ourselves when we were making fried chicken. Like budding scientists, we did a controlled experiment.

We brined two pieces of thigh meat overnight in a solution of water, kosher salt and white sugar with black peppercorns and bay leaves. The next day, we washed off the brine and aromatics and gave those thighs the same amount of time in a buttermilk soak as the unbrined pieces. Then we dredged them in seasoned flour and fried them. The resulting differences were amazing.

No doubt about it. The brined chicken was more tender and moist.


Knowing that brining made a difference led me to try brining a whole chicken. The results, just like the fried chicken, were very good. Now I use the same technique when prepping our turkey for Thanksgiving.

Then, one day Googling around the internet when I should have been writing, I stumbled on a recipe that changed the way I had been brining.

Melissa Clark, the wonderful New York Times food writer, is always on the look out for ways to improve on familiar techniques and dishes. In the article I read, she talked about adding feta to the brine before roasting a whole chicken. Salty, crumbly cheese in a brine. Brilliant!

What follows is my riff on her original idea which is less of an improvement and more of a dirt path off the road she already paved.

Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

As with anything in life, begin with good ingredients and you'll achieve better results. That is especially true in cooking. So, buy a good plump, pale-pink skinned chicken, one that was raised without hormones. 

Size matters, especially depending on how many you are serving. A five-pound chicken is good for a dinner of four as long as there is a salad course before and side dishes served with the entre. If the chicken is one of several proteins, say a brown sugar salmon filetpork ribs or charred steaks, then one chicken will serve up to eight.

My mother and grandmother taught me that to waste food is a sin. In this case, that means always reserve the pan drippings, giblets, neck, heart, bones and carcass of the chicken to make a best-ever stock that you can use to make a to-die-for chicken-vegetable-rice soup or chicken and dumplings.

If a liver came with the chicken, use it to make a tasty mushroom-chicken liver pate to serve as an amuse bouche.

Only use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. All the other brands I've seen put in chemical additives. Diamond Crystal does not.

Line a roasting sheet tray with 1" sides with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet.  A sheet tray with sides lower than a roasting pan facilitates browning on the sides of the chicken.


 Serves 4

Time to brine: at least one hour or overnight

Time to prep: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 60 - 90 minutes depending on size of chicken

Time to rest before serving: 5 minutes

Special Cooking Tools 

Roasting rack

Cooking Twine

12"-14" kitchen tongs

Roasting sheet tray (with a 1" rim)

Aluminum foil and Silpat sheet to fit the roasting sheet tray

Ingredients for roasting

1 whole 5 pound chicken, liver, giblets, neck and heart removed, washed

Ingredients for the brine

1/4 cup fresh feta, preferably Bulgarian (because it is less expensive), crumbled

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

4 bay leaves, whole

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Ingredients for the topping

1 medium onion, washed, top and root end removed, peeled, sliced thin

1/2 cup Italian parsley, stems and leaves, washed, drained, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh feta, Bulgarian, crumbled

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Small bowl of flake salt (optional) on the table

Directions for brining

Use twine to tie together the legs and wings.

Place the chicken, salt, sugar and aromatics into a large heavy plastic bag or a container with a lid. Fill with cold water until the chicken is submerged. Seal. If using a plastic bag, place in a large bowl so the water doesn't leak.

Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Directions for Roasting

Preheat oven to 400F.  Place the roasting rack on top of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and a Silpat sheet for easier cleanup.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse, pat dry and allow to rest uncovered for 10 minutes.

Drain the brine and remove the feta and reserve.

In a bowl, mix together the feta from the brine, the additional feta, onion, parsley, sea salt and black pepper.

Rub olive oil over the chicken. Add remaining olive oil to the feta-onion-parlsey topping and mix well. Set aside.

Place chicken onto the roasting rack, breast down and put into the preheated oven. Roast for thirty to forty-five minutes or until the skin is brown and crisp to the touch.

Reduce oven to 350F.

Using tongs, turn over the chicken, being careful not to tear the skin. Place the chicken breast-side up on the roasting rack.

Cover the breast-side up chicken with the feta-onion-parlsey topping.  The mound of onions will seem large, but will greatly reduce during cooking. If any bits fall onto the bottom of the baking tray, no worries, you can scoop them up later.


Return to the oven. After 30 minutes, check for doneness. Wiggle a chicken leg. If there is resistance, the chicken needs more time. If the topping is getting too brown, place a sheet of aluminum over the top like a tent. Roast another 15 minutes and check for doneness. Continue roasting until the leg moves freely.

Remove from the oven and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top so the chicken rests for 5 minutes.

Remove aluminum foil. Carve in the kitchen or at the table. Use a recently sharpened knife or kitchen sheers. Plate the chicken with the charred onion-feta-parsley mix on top.

Serve hot with sides of roasted potatoes, squash or salt boiled spinach.

Place a small bowl of flake salt on the table. The crunch of the salt will add to the pleasures of the dish.

Preparing the stock

Once the chicken has been carved, reserve all the bones and pan drippings. If there isn't time to make stock that night, refrigerate and make the next day. Add the reserved heart and gizzard. Place in a large pot with water to cover and simmer 60 minutes. After straining, the stock can be refrigerated and used within two days or frozen in sealed containers and used for up to six months. Discard bones and carcass after removing any bits of meat to use in chicken-vegetable soup.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ready. Set. Go. Time to Think About Thanksgiving and Electric Knife Sharpeners

Thanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday, a time when family and friends gather together, share a meal and talk about what they hope for the coming year.

It is never to early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Right about now, my wife and I like to go over the guest list and send out emails to confirm who will be coming.


We'll review the recipes we want to use, culling out ones that weren't as good last year as we hoped and searching for dishes that take us in new directions as we confirm our standby favorites like roasted Brussel sprouts, cornbread stuffing with apricots and shiitake mushrooms, kosher and Moroccan style pickles, whole roasted tomatoes, made-from-scratch cranberry sauce and so many more. I'm getting hungry as I write this!


We'll check that we have all the kitchen implements we need. Roasting pans, turkey baster, oven thermometer and, most importantly, that our knives will be sharp.

Which is why I'm posting this article now.

A Good Knife is a Sharp Knife

If you enjoy cooking, you know the value of a good knife. There is nothing so unsatisfying as using dull knives to prepare a big meal like Thanksgiving dinner. The chopping and carving that should be a delight become a tedious, unhappy chore.


Over the years, I have put together a good collection of carbon stainless steel knives. I prefer Japanese style knives with their thiner blades and harder steel.

I have a filleting knife, a half dozen pairing knives, a serrated bread knife, utility knifes and several chefs knives. I also have a sushi knife for those occasions when I want to make thin slices of raw fish to serve on steamed rice or on a fresh green salad.


I want my knives with me wherever I am. Even when I travel, packed safely in my checked luggage, I always carry one of the pairing knives and a chef knife.

Cooking is one of the best ways to explore a destination if you have a kitchen where you are staying. Shopping puts you close to the local rhythms of life and cooking with fresh, local products is so much fun.

Or, if you are staying with friends, nothing says "thank you for letting me be a guest in your home" than making a meal for your hosts.

But a knife is only as good its edge. When you feel the knife drag as you slice a carrot or cut through a chicken breast, you know it's time to sharpen the blade.

For many years I used a steel rod, the kind butchers use to carve a thick pork chop or trim a rack of spareribs. But when the steel rod didn't give me the sharp edge I wanted, I switched to an electric knife sharpener. That made all the deference. Every couple of weeks, when I noticed that slicing a tomato wasn't as easy as it used to be, I'd run the knives through the sharpener and I'd be back in business.

I was perfectly happy with the knife sharpener I had, and then, I was asked to try the Work Sharp E5.

The Work Sharp E5 Electric Kitchen Knife Sharpener

When I used my old knife sharpener, my knives sharpened up nicely, but they didn't hold their edge. Now that I've been using the E5, I find my knives are sharper than before and they hold their edge longer.


Created by Work Sharp Culinary, the E5 and its sister the E3 sharpen every type of kitchen knife.

The more expensive E5 sharpens as well as the E3 with the added advantage of timed sharpening. Draw the knife through the sharpening slot, once, twice or as many times as necessary. The machine can sense when the edge is sharp and turns off.

To finish the sharpening processes, both the E3 and E5 come with a ceramic honing rod for fine tuning your blades. The E5 honing rod has an ingenious addition. On the side of the handle, a v-shaped notch is actually a MicoForge, designed to clean up the edge of your knife blade, extending its sharpness and giving you more control when you are slicing.


The E3 and E5 will also sharpen blades that are sharp on only one side like serrated bread knives, scissors, kitchen shears and my Japanese sushi knife.

Unlike my old sharpener which relies on factory installed disks to straighten and sharpen. The E3 and E5 use replaceable belts of varying grades (extra coarse, coarse, medium and fine). Color coded, they are easily replaced by flipping open the front panel and threading around three rollers. The belts slide off and on with ease.

The 17° guide that comes with the E3 and E5 works well with both East and West style knives. For a finer edge, I was given an Upgrade Kit which includes 15° (East) and 20° (West) guides and an expanded selection of belts.

Since my knives are mostly made in Japan, I switched out the 17° for the 15° guide. I'll be interested to see if I notice a difference in time.

Right now I'm seeing a big improvement in the sharpness of my knives.  Of course, the true test will be Thanksgiving, when all hands and all knives will be pressed into action to bring the half a dozen salads, dozen side dishes and a carved turkey to the table.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Summer Tomatoes Saved for Winter Dishes

Even as the heat of the sun makes us wonder if summer will ever end, as the saying goes, "Winter is coming."

Walking through the farmers markets, I am happy to see a great abundance of tomatoes. With that abundance comes lower prices. Find a farmer who has too much of a good thing and the price comes down even more.


"Reduced to sell." "Soft ready to eat." Those are the tomatoes I look for. I'll buy them by the bagful. Five or ten pounds at a time. My plan is to prepare for a time when fresh tomatoes are a thing of the past.


I am anticipating a time when storm clouds are outside and I'm staring into the refrigerator looking for inspiration. I yearn for the produce of summer: leafy greens, corn and full-bodied tomatoes. But there is a way to enjoy the sweet-acidic deliciousness of tomatoes even in the darkest days of winter. Just look in your freezer.
With abundant tomatoes in the farmers markets, buy ripe tomatoes, roast and freeze them to be used in braises, soups and sauces in the fall and winter. Once blasted with heat in the oven, the tomatoes happily take to the freezer if they are covered in liquid.
Enjoy frozen roasted tomatoes whole or puree into sauce, and as rain beats against your windows and snow accumulates on your lawn, you will remember those heady summer flavors.

Oven-roasted tomatoes to use as a side dish or in sauces

Use ripe and over-ripe tomatoes. If you can find only unripe, hard tomatoes, leave them in a sunny spot on the kitchen counter until they ripen. Bruised tomatoes are OK as long as you use a sharp paring knife to remove the damaged parts. Avoid tomatoes with broken skin because of the risk of mold.
Any kind of tomato can be used: heirloom, Roma, cherry, large or small salad tomatoes.
A food mill is helpful when making the sauce. If one is not available, a fine meshed wire strainer will do almost as well.


When roasting the tomatoes, it is important to use parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat mat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the baking sheet. With a Silpat mat, none of the good bits that caramelize on the bottom are wasted.

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes love the sun’s heat when they’re growing. And they love the oven’s heat that coaxes a rich umami sweetness out of their naturally acidic souls.
That sweetness is at the heart of the roasted tomatoes that will be in your freezer.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Roasting time: 60 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 quarts
Ingredients
5 pounds tomatoes, washed, patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper cut to size. Use a baking sheet with a 1-inch lip to capture any liquids created during roasting.
3. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a “V” shape around the stem, remove and discard. With cherry tomatoes, any stems can be brushed off the surface without making a cut.
4. Place the de-stemmed tomatoes on the lined baking sheet, stem side up.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Place in oven and roast 60 minutes.
7. Remove and let cool.

Freezing Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, you’ll notice a clear liquid has accumulated on the bottom. Some of that is olive oil. But most of the liquid is a clear tomato essence prized by chefs for its clean flavor.
If you are freezing some of the roasted tomatoes whole, use the clear liquid to cover the tomatoes in the deli containers.
Use airtight containers that are about the same width as the tomatoes so you will need a small amount of liquid to cover them.

Defrosting Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you want to use the tomatoes, take them out of the freezer in the evening and let them defrost overnight. If any ice crystals have accumulated on top of the tomatoes, rinse off the ice before defrosting.
If you want to serve them whole, the tomatoes can be warmed in the oven or microwave. They are delicate, so handle them carefully.

Whole Roasted Tomato, Easy-to-Make Pasta Sauce

A deliciously simple pasta sauce to make any time of the year, not just in winter. Serve the pasta with steamed vegetables, a charred steak or a grilled chicken breast and you will have a perfect cold weather meal that warms body and soul.
The flavorful tomato sauce can become a vegan dish by simply omitting the butter and cheese.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Sauté time: 5 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, roughly chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
2 to 3 whole, large roasted tomatoes, skins removed
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, about 10 minutes, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. Heat the olive oil.
5. Add the parsley and garlic. Lightly brown.
6. Holding the roasted tomatoes over the sauté pan, use your hands to tear them apart so you capture all the liquid. Add any liquid from the deli container.
7. Stir well and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
8. Taste and salt, if needed; add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
9. Stir well and add butter. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding sea salt and black pepper.
10. When ready to serve, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan. Over a medium flame, toss the pasta in the sauce to coat.
11. Serve hot with a bowl of Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

The tomatoes used to make the sauce are prepared and roasted in the same manner as those used to create whole roasted tomatoes.
Directions
1. Working with small batches, remove the roasted tomatoes from the baking sheet and put some of the roasted tomatoes into a food mill or fine mesh, wire strainer placed over a nonreactive bowl. Press the tomatoes through, collecting all the juice in the bowl.

2. Use a spatula to scrape off the pulp that will accumulate on the bottom of the food mill or the strainer. Add the pulp to the juice.

3. Discard the tomato skins. Or add to your compost. Or, even better, reserve in the freezer to use with other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock.

Freezing Roasted Tomato Sauce

Put the open deli containers on a counter. Stir the tomato juice to mix with the pulp.

Fill each deli container to a half-inch below the top so that when the sauce freezes, the liquid will have room to expand and will not force open the lid.
When cooled, the filled containers can be placed in the freezer.

Defrosting Roasted Tomato Sauce

Even without defrosting, the frozen sauce can be used at the last minute, when you want to thicken a soup, add a layer of flavor to a braise or make a simple pasta sauce.
There are infinite ways to use this versatile sauce. One of my favorites is an easy-to-make pasta with sautéed vegetables.
If any ice crystals accumulate on the top of the sauce, rinse off the ice before defrosting.

Penne Pasta With Roasted Tomato Sauce and Sautéed Vegetables

Prep time: 10 minutes
Sauté time: 10 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, washed, stems removed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, washed, stems removed, peeled, roughly chopped
8 large shiitake mushrooms, ends of the stems removed, washed, patted dry, roughly chopped
2 cups broccolini or broccoli, washed, cut into florets, the stems cut into slabs
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, finely chopped
12 ounces frozen tomato sauce, defrosted on the counter overnight
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium flame.
5. Heat the olive oil.
6. Add carrots, onion, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned.
7. Add roasted tomato sauce, butter and pepper flakes. Stir well. Taste. If salt is needed, add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
8. Simmer on a medium flame and reduce.
9. Taste, adjust seasoning and continue simmering if you want the sauce to be thicker.
10. When the sauce is the consistency you like, add the cooked pasta, coat well.
11. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more sea salt or black pepper.
12. Serve hot with a bowl of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Amsterdam, Jenever and Me, Together Again

I'm back in Amsterdam. Which makes me very happy. I celebrated being here by walking across the city.

For a coffee at a local hangout, I met Machteld Ligtvoet, a friend from several trips to the city. The brasserie and bar de Ysbreeker (Weesperzijde 23, 1091 EC) was named for the ice breakers that used to dock on the Amstel River in front of the 18th century building. We talked about Amsterdam and she shared some of her favorite destinations.

After we said goodbye, I could have taken a tram back to the INK Hotel Amsterdam where I am staying or, as Machteld suggested, I could walk.

That was great advice. Walking across the city was so much fun. 

I walked on the east side of the Amstel River, checking out the river traffic and the house boats moored along the river and the canals. Then I walked across the city center so I could stop at the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. I had heard that the Grand's 1-star Michelin restaurant Bridges had recently been remodeled. 


Anne-Claire Koopman, Marketing Manager at the Grand, gave me a tour of Bridges. The restaurant is a delight. Elegant, modern and intimate. I didn't have time in my schedule to have a meal, but next trip, that will be at the top of my must-do list. 

There were other changes at Bridges as well. A new bar, the addition of a chef's table in the heart of the kitchen and an expanded bistro, where we found a seat with a close-up view of the beautifully lush courtyard garden. 


For a snack, we had a plate of  bitterballen, that quintessential Dutch appetizer made with flour and bits of meat, deep fried and served with a proper spicy mustard. Delicious! But it was the beverages that gave me a Proustian moment.


In 2015 I was in Amsterdam and stumbled on a liquor store on the edge of the Jordaan, 2008 Wine & Spirits (Haarlemmerdijk 59). Ron Verhoeven offered me a tasting of Jenever or Genever, a distinctive Dutch spirit. Clear or amber, depending on the age, it was love at first sip.

Verhoeven set me on a path that I've pursued since then. I wrote an article about Jenever, which I am reprinting here.

Which brings me back to Bridges. Jenever was on the drink menu. Of course, this is Amsterdam. The bistro poured Jonge Bols Dubbelgestookte Graanjenever with a beer back. I loved the combination of a strong clean spirit and the effervescence of a light Dutch beer. Delicious. 

All that was missing was to close the circle.

After I said goodbye to Anne-Claire, I continued walking north through drizzle and sunny skies. I crossed DAM Square, joining the throngs of tourists north on Nieuwendijk, which finally became Haarlemmerdijk. I was returning to square one, the place where it all began.

I walked into 2008 Wine & Spirits expecting to see Ron Verhoeven again. He wasn't there. Arjan his brother-in-law greeted me. 


I quickly saw what I wanted. Zuidam: Jonge Graan Genever. I bought two bottles to bring home. Arjan told me the history of genever and how the quintessential Dutch spirit fell out of favor in the 60s and 70s. Happily in the last twenty years, jenever has had a resurgence. Large and small producers have embraced the spirit, improving the quality, striking out into new flavor directions.

For the rest of the evening, at dinner at de Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60) and for a nightcap at the Pressroom Bar at INK, I sampled more jeneers. Oh, happiness.

I enjoyed a Wees Jonge and a Zuidam Gelagerde Korenwijin 5 Jaar Vat Gelagerd. So different. So delicious. 

Which leads me to the article I wrote about Jenever. I'm reposting it now, to share with you my enjoyment of jenever and hope you join me in lifting a glass, with a beer back, to salute the wonders of Amsterdam and the Dutch! (Did I mention that my grandfather was born in Rotterdam?)

Jenever’s clean, bright taste is perfect neat or in cocktails.

If you visit Amsterdam, you will be advised to do as the Dutch do. No matter the weather, rain or shine, jump on a bicycle and explore the city. A necessary part of the Dutch experience is to stop in a neighborhood bar for a sandwich and a glass of jenever (or, genever, as it is variously spelled, and pronounced “yin-e-ver”).

You will happily greet the waiter who delivers jenever to your table in its traditional tulip shaped glass. As you sip, the jenever will give you “Dutch courage” to go back outside to continue your adventures.


For hundreds of years, jenever was the favorite drink of the Netherlands. When the English and Dutch fought a war in the 17th century, the English soldiers remarked about the fierceness of their opponents. That fierceness seemed to have something to do with the drink they shared before battle. Soon the English were drinking jenever as ardently as the Dutch and when they returned home, they wanted more of the same.

They called their creations “gin,” a reference to jenever but gin was made in a very different way. Because gin is better known, jenever is sometimes incorrectly called “Dutch gin.”

The Basics

Both use juniper berries as an aromatic, but jenever is distilled from malt wine made with rye, corn and wheat, while gin is distilled from grains. That malty base gives jenever a quality similar to whiskey or scotch. 


To be called a jenever, the spirit can only be produced in the regions specified as AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), which include the Netherlands, Belgium and a few areas in France and Germany. In 2008, two sub-categories were created that differentiated a “young” (jonge) and an “old” (oude) jenever. The names refer not to age but to the percentage of malt wine and sugar in each. Following the historic practice, old jenever must have at least 15% malt wine and no more than 20 grams of sugar per liter. Creating a more modern and lighter distillate, young jenever may have no more than 15% malt wine and no more than 10 grams of sugar per liter.

A few jenevers are exported to the U.S. and they are prized by mixologists.  The best way to enjoy the great variety produced by Dutch distilleries is to go on a jenever-bar-crawl in Amsterdam.

A Walking Tour of Amsterdam’s Jenever Tasting Rooms
Walking along the canals, visiting museums and hanging out in coffee shops, you will want to visit several of Amsterdam’s jenever tasting rooms called proeflokaal. Many of those family-run bars are in historic rooms with ancient wood paneled walls, cooper pots used in distillation and shelves lined with dozens of types of jenever. 

For my tour of Amsterdam, after I crossed tourist-popular Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace, I walked down a narrow pedestrian walk-way lined with centuries old stone buildings that all but blocked out the bright blue sky overhead. Finally I reached Wynand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31, 1012 HH Amsterdam,+31 20 639 2695), a 17th century tavern with a retail store in one small room and a bar in the other. 

Wynand Fockink feels like a setting you’ve seen in a Rembrandt painting with low ceilings and long wooden shelves, sagging with age and the weight of a great many liquor bottles. No mixed cocktails are served here. The bartenders offer customers tastings of their old, young, spelt, rye and superior jenevers in traditional tulip shaped glasses.

Another destination for that old school experience is the charming, historic, 19th century building housing Proeflokaal A. van Wees (Herengracht 319, 1016 AV Amsterdam, Netherlands, +31 20 625 4334). The tasting room serves sixteen types of van Wees jenever. The young jenevers have a light, bright flavor. The old jenevers, of which there are many, have flavors varied by the choice of botanicals and the length of time spent in oak casks. Some of those jenevers are aged as long as fifteen and twenty years to create flavors similar to brandy or fine Scotch. 


The Van Wees Distillery (Van Wees distilleerderij de Ooievaar) originally opened in 1782, may be the oldest, continuously run jenever distillery in Amsterdam. Fenny van Wees, the current owner and distiller, took over from her father who followed his father into the business. Now her daughter, Nikki Swart, has joined her. Their small batch jenevers are sold in bars around Amsterdam and exported throughout Europe, although not as yet to the U.S. About her release, the Miracle of Amsterdam (Mirakel van Amsterdam), she uses phrases commonly employed to describe fine wines and exquisite whiskeys. 



“It smells like honey, straw, vanilla, lemon, cardamom and other sultry scents, as if you’re wandering around through a warm eastern countryside. Tasteful and yet absolutely charming and elegant. In my opinion a female jenever, made by a female.”

For a completely different experience, a must-stop on a jenever tour of Amsterdam is the House of Bols (Paulus Potterstraat 14, 1071 CZ Amsterdam, +31 20 570 8575). The design style is modern, bright and colorful. In the Mirror Bar, the décor is fun and exciting as guests gather around the long bar to watch mixologists ply their trade. Guests can also join a workshop in cocktail mixology and have tastings of Bols’ liquors and jenevers as well as take a tour of the distillery and experience the varied aromas and flavors used in creating spirits in the Hall of Taste. 

Jenever in the U.S.

Making an appearance in Michelin-starred restaurants and bars around the country, jenever appeals to mixologists who like its distinctive flavors and its ability to play nice with other ingredients.  

Leo Robitschek at New York’s Nomad Bar (1170 Broadway, New York 10001, 212 796 1500) uses jenever to build complex flavors in his cocktails. To make the Dr. Walnut cocktail, he mixes Bols Genever 1820 with Amaro Ciociaro, Royal Combier, hazelnut liqueur, lemon juice, egg white and shaved walnuts. For a completely different experience, Bols Genever 1820, pisco and cachaça are combined to create a high-octane base in the Sakura Maru cocktail, flavored with sheep’s milk yogurt, lemon juice and agave. 

At San Francisco’s Mint 54 (16 Mint Plaza, San Francisco 94103, 415 543 5100) in Union Square, Jacobo Rosito uses a light touch when he creates jenever cocktails.  His New Era cocktail, a riff on a Moscow Mule puts Bols 1820 Genever front and center in a light mixer of St. Germain, lime juice, Fever Tree ginger beer and a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. For his Smokey Old Fashioned, he accents Bols Barrel Aged Genever with Lapsang Souchong syrup and bitters 12.  


Rosito says that those two cocktails are now the most popular at 54 Mint. For an after dinner digestive, he recommends Bols Barrel Aged Genever, which he happily admits he loves neat as his own end-of-the-evening treat. Rosito declares enthusiastically that jenever will become the new trend in the U.S.

Cesar Cerrudo at Mercado Modern (301 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701, 714 338 2446)
also benefited from a visit to Amsterdam. Cerrudo riffs on classic cocktails using Bols genevers. With a nod to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, for his Red Light Negorni he uses Bols Genever, Pisco Viejo Tonel Acholado, Galliano L’Aperitivo infused with strawberries, lavender infused Carpano Antica Vermouth, Fee Brothers Rhubarb bitters, Fernet Vallet and clove smoke. His customers enjoy the way the genever interacts with the pisco, giving his Negorni a distinctive flavor profile.


By inviting mixologists to Amsterdam, Bols familiarized Rosito, Cerrudo and many others with jenever. As bartenders become better acquainted with jenever and demand increases, expect small batch distilleries like Wynand Fockink, Van Wees Distillery, Zuidam and others to make their distinctive jenevers available in the U.S. When that happens, jenever’s clean, bright flavors will compete for the attention of loyal mescal, gin and whiskey drinkers. And that will be a good day for everyone who loves quality spirits.